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Content archived on 2024-04-16

The effect of habitat fragmentation on the loss of genetic diversity


The objective is to evaluate the importance of habitat fragmentation for the genetic structure of an animal population.

Natural habitat is disappearing so rapidly so that in most areas only fragments remain. This has dramatic effects on the fauna and flora, one of which is that populations become smaller and habitat fragmentation increases. This leads to a reduction of within species genetic diversity. To apply theoretical models to the calculation of this loss, one needs to know the actual population size. This is determined partially by the size of the breeding population but even more by the between individual variation in lifetime reproduction.

An alternative way to determine the loss of genetic variation in populations is to measure it directly. In order to manage populations, it is necessary to know how rapidly genetic variation is lost. At present, such information is not available in natural populations. In order to formulate European Community policy concerning the management of natural resources and the conservation of endangered species, one has to know which factors affect loss of genetic diversity. In particular which habitat or population ratio is required to conserve a reasonable amount of genetic variation in natural populations.

The red squirrel is used as a model organism because it is sufficiently abundant to allow adequate sample sizes and has only limited dispersal capabilities between woodland fragments so that populations with different degrees of isolation can be studied. This dispersal is measured by mark and recapture.

The objectives of the project are 3-fold:
to produce single locus probes for deoxyribonucleic acid(DNA) fingerprinting in red squirrels;
to use these probes for measuring allelic variation in natural red squirrel populations in woodlots of different size;
and red squirrels have recently been introduced in 2 wooded areas of different sizes so that the genetic structure of established populations can be compared with those from new but expanding populations. This is particularly relevant as a model for studying the recovery of a small mammal population after a crash.


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1,Universiteitsplein 1

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